BROSSARD - A visibly emotional Tomas Plekanec officially retired from the NHL on Friday, as the Canadiens and the 36-year-old veteran centerman mutually agreed to part ways.
Before addressing the media alongside general manager Marc Bergevin, the club announced that Plekanec would be placed on unconditional waivers on Saturday at 12:00 p.m. for the purpose of terminating his contract.
The move comes as Bergevin took a long hard look at the way some of his younger pivots have been performing since the start of the 2018-19 campaign, and it appeared that it was time to let them take the lead up the middle.
"When we made the decision to bring Tomas back to Montreal, we had a lot of question marks at center. Phillip Danault finished the season with a concussion. We'd acquired Max Domi, who'd been playing center in Phoenix, but we hadn't seen him in Montreal. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, we had no idea what would happen. We still didn't have [Matthew] Peca at that point. It was important to bring in a centerman, someone who fit like Tomas," explained Bergevin. "But, with the progression of all of our centermen - and the direction we're taking with speed and youth - I owed it to him to explain. That's why we met, and the decision was made for a mutual separation. It's out of respect for Tomas, which is important for us."
Video: Marc Bergevin and Tomas Plekanec's press conference
Admittedly, it wasn't an easy conversation for either party involved. Of Plekanec's 1,001 career regular-season games, 984 were played in a Habs uniform, with his most recent outing coming back on October 17, before going down with an injury to his lower-back.
A consummate professional, the Kladno, Czech Republic native and father of two understood the Canadiens' position in the matter as they look to focus squarely on the future.
"It's obviously hard, but I understand the decision. It's a decision for the organization. Seeing guys like KK, Max and Phil doing so well, and other guys in Laval, it's probably the best way to do this," said Plekanec. "I've been around for long enough to know that these guys need to get the chance, and that's the way we discussed that."
While it wasn't the way Plekanec was hoping to close out his lengthy tenure at hockey's highest level, he was especially pleased to do it sporting the colors of the team that drafted him 71st overall back in 2001.
"I always wanted to retire as a Montreal Canadien. It's something that I'm really proud of. I would have never expected that," mentioned Plekanec, who registered 233 goals and 606 points during his 15 seasons with the Habs, and served as an assistant captain from 2010-11 through 2017-18. "I'm proud to have been part of this organization, and the decision is good for this team moving forward. I'm happy with what I accomplished here. I can leave happy and proud."
Video: STL@MTL: Plekanec honored for playing in 1,000th game
He certainly can, and he hopes his supporters will always remember him as a player who made every effort to help the Canadiens achieve success.
"I'm hoping they'll remember me as a guy that always gave 100 percent and gave everything for the team and the logo. That was always my way to play for this organization," confided Plekanec. "Unfortunately, I never had the chance to play for the Cup, but I'm proud of the way I spent my time in Montreal."
After the news of his retirement broke, meeting with his teammates and bidding them adieu was particularly tough.
The close relationships with his fellow players is undoubtedly what he will miss most about NHL life.
"It was harder than I thought it was going to be," said Plekanec, of his chat with the veterans and youngsters alike who played alongside him. "I'm going to miss the guys. It's another family. Coming here every morning, seeing the guys, we all have our own routines, and now it's gone. It's going to be something I'm going to miss, for sure. But, I'll be watching the guys, cheering for them and feeling like a part of the team, hopefully, for the next little while."
Video: DET@MTL: Plekanec finds twine in 1,000th NHL game
What does the future have in store?
Plekanec isn't planning on giving up the game he loves for good.
"I definitely want to keep playing hockey, at least a year or two, and see what the options are. I want to see if there is anything interesting when I come back home," mentioned Plekanec, referencing possible opportunities to ply his trade in his native Czech Republic. "But, I wanted to retire as a Montreal Canadien. For me, there was no other option than to go and play a couple of years back home."
We wish you all the best down the road, Pleky! Thank you for all of the wonderful memories over the years!